A Skype Chat With Richard Falk
By David Kattenburg
This past July, at a Beirut forum on Palestine, and on the seemingly endless struggle of the Palestinian people for justice and self-determination, American public intellectual Richard Falk summoned up the opening line of a classic Charles Dickens novel.
How better to describe the current state of affairs than as the ‘Worst of Times’? With Trump and his cronies more passionately attached to Israel than any US administration in the past seventy years, and Arab leaders jostling for access to the Middle East’s most technologically advanced, militarily powerful market, all the “realist power variables” support Israel’s efforts to thwart Palestinian objectives, Falk told the Arab International Forum for Justice for Palestine. Israel “seems to be able to do whatever it wants.”
So, where in the lives of Palestine’s beleaguered indigenous people — dispossessed, arrested, tear gassed, skunk sprayed, gunned down; their property vandalized, demolished or seized, pretty much every day and every night; their leadership thoroughly disunited — might the ‘Best of Times’ be located?
Falk offers a few suggestions. The spectacle of tens of thousands of Gazans marching up to the fortified perimeter Israel has sealed them off within, in their Great March of Return, for example — waving their flags, singing songs, rejoicing in each other’s company, in brilliant contrast to what the collaborationist Palestinian Authority encourages just a few kilometers away, in the West Bank.
For those in search of silver linings, like Falk, Israel’s blatantly disproportionate response to overwhelmingly peaceful protests (almost two hundred Gazans shot dead by Israeli snipers to date, and tens of thousands injured, some grievously) offers a salutary reminder that oppressive regimes ultimately discredit themselves.
Another expression of Israeli honesty that encourages optimists like Richard Falk: Israel’s new Nation-State law. Recently passed by the Israeli Knesset (though currently facing multiple court challenges), the law declares:
“The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
Excellent! What Israel has long claimed to be true and given practice to, but its supporters and apologists have denied, is now codified in law. The de jure distinction between racial groups enshrined in Israel’s new ‘Basic Law’ — Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People — lends credence to Falk and Illinois political scientist Virginia Tilley’s 2017 argument (and that of numerous others) that Israel practices apartheid, as defined by the 1973 Convention on Apartheid and 2002 Rome Statute.
“Liberal Zionists can no longer indulge the illusion” that Israel is anything other than an apartheid state, Falk says, and this is good.
There are other reasons to feel bullish about the situation in Palestine, when pretty much everything looks bad: kids like Ahed Tamimi, for example, who slapped a heavily armed Israeli soldier late last year, got arrested and jailed by Israeli occupation fores, only to be released this past August as a national icon. Palestine’s first poster-child for popular resistance has been embraced by the global mainstream media! Definitely a positive turn of events.
Most crucially for Richard Falk — an Emeritus Professor of law at Princeton University, and former UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Palestine — the International Court of Justice’s ongoing preliminary investigation of Palestinian complaints suggests that the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend towards justice.
A few weeks after the Arab International Forum where Richard Falk presented his ‘Best of Times, Worst of Times’ thesis, I reached him by Skype, in nearby Turkey. Listen to our conversation here: